Every now and then I get to meet a patient who truly inspires me. It can be their insatiable curiosity, their courage and open mind or simply the fact they read every cancer related book on the planet. Such one patient referred me to a book titled The Healing Journey by A.J. Cunningham which she found compelling.
Alastair Cunningham is the director of The Healing Journey program, a scientist and psychologist. Hi is a professor at the University of Toronto and a cancer survivor himself. The Healing Journey is a program for people who want to learn how to help themselves when they have cancer, or other serious chronic diseases. It is a practical course, providing simple, psychological and spiritual tools which promote inner harmony, peace and healing, methods that can help any of us become a “healed person”. The program has been developed and evaluated at a large cancer treatment and research center, and parts of it have been offered there and at cancer support centers since 1982.
What my patient found compelling about Cunningham’s program is that it reconcile science, psychology and spirituality. He and his team have taken the brave step toward a true whole person approach to recovery and it is that which prompted her to share this with me. There is tremendous value in this program and if you are fortunate enough to live in near any of the Wellspring Cancer Centers in Toronto and other parts of Canada I highly recommend you attend it.
As a practitioner, I found Cunningham’s language and the way he connected the dots through his writing very powerful and valuable. He provided a clear and concise explanation of the relationship between the physical organic event of disease and the psychological and spiritual dimensions.
“Suffering is a mental reaction to events perceived as unwanted. Much of the suffering cancer causes comes from reflecting on the diagnosis and what it implies, rather than directly from the disease itself. Cancer is thus an existential crisis, not simply a physical problem. If we consider the task of the health care professional to be assisting healing, and “healing” in the broadest sense to mean the relief of suffering, then various approaches can be used to help the patient, who may be extremely anxious for his or her life.” ~ A.J. Cunningham
“The usual medical strategy is to work directly on the body, attempting to remove the cancer and alleviate symptoms, thus eliminating or minimizing the physical cause of the suffering. A psychological approach is also feasible and , ideally, complements the medical , helping people to change their mental reaction to the situation by modifying the internal monologue and the distress thus engendered. A “spiritual” level in the healing of suffering is also available, and it has a long history in traditional cultures, although it is little understood by medical science.”
I am completely on board with this view but only to the point of defining “spirituality”. The Healing Journey definition of “spiritual” is “helping the suffering person to connect with an aspect of self that has been labelled as spiritual self, the Divine within, God, the Tao etc”. This view in my opinion has a religious aspect to it. A person suffering gain a sense of being a part of something bigger thus his experience or the threat to his body is perceived as much less important. My definition of “spiritual” is drawn from Viktor Frankle’s teaching and therefore revolves around Meaning, as meaning of life. Working from this perspective peace of mind and/or healing can be gained by finding meaning in every moment, in every event and stem from one’s freedom of choice. It is the freedom to find the “good” in that which is perceived as “bad”, the silver lining around every dark cloud if you will.
If you’re thinking we’re only splitting hair here, well that is your choice of course 🙂 as for me, I am grateful to learn about this valuable resource and Cunningham’s contribution.
If you are interested in learning more The Healing Journey Program, visit this link. It offers access to all the written material and audio recordings from the program on their website.
You can also watch this video: